Photo by Bobby McDuffie

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Play It Again Sports – Hattiesburg, MS

By Robert Wilson
Photos by Bobby McDuffie

       In a game between two tradition-rich programs – one from the MHSAA (Oak Grove) and one from the MAIS (Madison-Ridgeland Academy) – and two amazing offenses which produced more than 1,000 yards of total offense, it was a superb defensive play that was the difference.

       Senior defensive lineman Caleb Moore – a 6-foot-3, 250-pound Southern Miss commitment – stopped MRA junior running back Charles Simpson short of the goal line on a two-point conversion try to give Oak Grove a 45-44 overtime victory over MRA in the first football meeting between these two schools before an estimated 4,000 fans at Warrior Field in Hattiesburg.

       MHSAA Class 7A Oak Grove – ranked No. 118 in the country and the highest ranked Mississippi team by High School Football America – improved to 4-0. MAIS Class 6A MRA – which has less than a quarter of the students in grades 9-12 as Oak Grove (410 to 1,764) – dropped to 4-2. Oak Grove came into the game ranked No. 2 and MRA No. 12 in Mississippi, according to MaxPreps.

       Oak Grove senior quarterback and Texas A&M commitment Anthony Maddox and MRA senior quarterback John White put an offensive show. Maddox completed 24 of 27 passes for 378 yards and four touchdowns and ran six times for 25 yards. White completed 25 of 30 passes for 394 yards and three TDs and ran for two TDs. The two quarterbacks combined to complete 86.0 percent of their passes, not only a rarity in high school, but college and NFL too. Maddox and White are two of the top three quarterbacks (Maddox No.1 and White No. 3) rated by 247Sports in Mississippi. Starkville senior and Indiana commit Trey Petty is No. 2.

       Maddox completed a 31-yard pass to senior wide receiver Tajii Burkett for a 38-31 lead with 8 minutes, 1 second to play. White led MRA on an 80-yard, 12-play scoring drive and ran for a 1-yard TD on a sneak and senior kicker Max Zuluaga for a 38-38 tie with 2:57 to play. The big play on the drive was a 30-yard pass to the Oak Grove 15 from White to sophomore wide receiver Will Jones – grandson of former longtime Mississippi College athletic director and men’s basketball coach and Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame member Mike Jones. Maddox, once again, pushed Oak Grove down the field to set up the potential winning field goal attempt. Senior Luke Stewart – one of the best kickers in Mississippi who had made 12 of 13 field goal attempts over the past two seasons – had his 40-yard attempt partially blocked by MRA after a high snap to send the game into overtime.

       Oak Grove junior running back Kyle Champagne scored on a 1-yard run on third down for a 45-38 lead. White completed a 6-yard TD pass on third down to junior wide receiver Jack Polles on third down to close the gap to 45-44. Then MRA coach Herbert Davis chose to go for the win instead of the tie and called the option play to the left side of the field. The play been successful most of the game with White either keeping the ball or pitching to Simpson, but Oak Grove’s defense, led by Moore, stopped it this time. Moore, the No. 11 rated player in Mississippi by 247 Sports, was able to stop Simpson several yards from the goal line. Oak Grove’s players and fans could finally celebrate.

       Said Davis about going for the win: “We were huge underdogs. We were on the road. Why not?”

       Moore’s stop finally gave Oak Grove coach Drew Causey a chance to relax in the highly competitive game.

       “Caleb Moore had a great game and made the game-winning tackle,” Causey said. “AJ Maddox, (senior wide receiver) Damari Jefferson and Tajii Burkett played great, (senior wide receiver and Mississippi State commit) PJ Woodland played great on offense and Kylin Champagne ran the ball hard. Their QB played great.”

       Woodland had seven catches for 135 yards and one TD, Jefferson had six catches for 75 yards and one TD, Burkett had had seven catches for 160 yards and two TDs and three runs for 42 yards and one TD and Champagne had 12 carries for 85 yards and one TD.

       MRA sophomore wide receiver Case Thomas – whose father Neal kicked for Alabama in the early 2000s – had six catches for 129 yards and two TDs, his fourth 100-yard game this season. Simpson had 29 carries for 109 yards and one TD and five catches for 55 yards.

       “Oak Grove’s coaches are first class, they run a great program and have one of the best places to play in Mississippi,” Davis said. “They have an unbelievable amount of Division I athletes. I’m very proud of my team and how we well we played and showed tremendous effort. We had a good plan. We were just one play short.”

       White continued his pace to try to become the leading career passer in Mississippi history. He now has thrown for 1,913 yards this season and 13,423 in his career, third on the all-time list. Myles Brennan is the Mississippi record holder with 15,138 career yards at St. Stanislaus from 2013-16 and Ty Keyes from Taylorsville (14,525 from 2017-2020).

White’s career high is 515 yards against Jackson Prep as a sophomore.

“John showed that he play in the SEC by his performance against Oak Grove, a team loaded with Division I players,” Davis said. “He has tremendous poise and great accuracy and made great decisions.”

       Friday’s game reminded Mississippi high school football fans of Oak Grove’s only other football game with a MAIS team two years ago when Greenville Christian School defeated Oak Grove 48-41. Greenville Christian quarterback D.J. Smith – who was named the Mississippi Gatorade Player the Year later that year and is now playing at Jones County Junior College – passed for 305 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 125 yards and four TDs in the most anticipated meeting between private and public school football teams in Mississippi history before a standing room only crowd of 6,500 at Warrior Stadium in Hattiesburg.

       Both teams came in highly ranked. Greenville Christian, ranked No. 3 in Mississippi by MaxPreps, surprised Oak Grove, ranked No. 1 in Mississippi and ranked No. 79 in the country by MaxPreps and No. 75 in the nation by High School America, and broke the Warriors’ 16-game winning streak – the longest in Mississippi. Greenville Christian improved to 4-1 with its only loss to Collins Hill, Ga., High, ranked No. 7 in the nation by MaxPreps, in the Freedom Bowl in Atlanta two weeks ago. Many consider Greenville Christian one of the best MAIS teams in history.

Oak Grove dropped to 3-1 and had won 24 of its last 25 coming into this game. The Warriors have played in the 6A state championship game for the last three seasons, losing in 2018 and 2019 and winning in 2020. Oak Grove has won more games in the past six seasons than any Class 6A team in Mississippi.

The first public-private football game in Mississippi history was in 2001 when George County from the MHSAA defeated Jackson Prep from the MAIS 27-14 at Prep in Flowood. There have been at least a hundred public-private football games since then, but none between teams of this caliber.